This fall, students in MIT Russian language classes had an opportunity to participate in language exchange with their peers at the SkolTech University in Moscow.

Students discussed topics such as education and professional interests, family history and holiday traditions, as well as daily life during the pandemic in both countries. Many students in Russia and the United States were interested in these exchanges, so we invited peers from other U.S. school, including Bucknell, Columbia, Yale, Wellesley, Bowdoin, and other universities to participate. As a result, what started as a speaking practice task for MIT classes, ultimately involved more than 200 students from both countries.

Here is what MIT students had to say about their experience:

“I really enjoyed being able to talk to a native speaker because it helped me gain a greater cultural insight into Russian. It was nice to learn how to talk about cultural events in Russian and to understand the current environment of a different country.” – Alexis Lepe, Course 16, class of 2023

“Getting firsthand insight into life in Russia from a native speaker and resident has been the highlight of my semester.  I’ve discovered foods I’ve never heard before, movies I’ve never seen, some slang, and experienced a different culture.” – Tyrone Davis, Course 6, Class of 2022

“The opportunity to speak with a Russian native through the MIT-Russia program is invaluable. My weekly conversations with Elya build my confidence in speaking the language and bolster my fluency for my continued study; without a doubt, our conversations are paying dividends now and will continue to pay dividends as I continue on my journey to becoming bilingual!” – George Denove, MS student, Course 16.

Russian students reported enjoying learning about life in the U.S., staying connected in times when traditional communication was restricted, and cherishing the moments when they got to see their American partners grow more confident in Russian language.

The conversations were facilitated by Elena Kiseleva, Senior Specialist at SkolTech and Maria Khotimsky, Senior Lecturer in Russian at Global Languages, MIT. Students have offered helpful feedback for organizing similar programs in the future, and we hope to re-launch these exchanges as an extracurricular opportunity in Spring 2021.